Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hand Me Downs

Now that my kids are getting older I have started getting rid of baby stuff; gear, clothes, books, toys, etc.  In the beginning I wanted to just toss everything in the trash.  But as I started to sort through clothing and toys memories started to come back to me; favorite outfits, first trips, an old paint stain on a pair of 18 mo old pink shorts.  I realized there were just some things I couldn't get rid of - thus my 'if I ever get a niece/nephew/grandchildren-pile' was born.

But other items of clothing were just as cute and wonderful.  Knowing that my three boys and sometimes a fourth (Joe) wore some of these clothes made it difficult to simply put in a Goodwill pile.  So I shipped them to Washington where a friends lived.  Other clothes went to a friend who we was on our t-ball team.  I ripped off the band-aid to never see the clothes again, knowing that I had eased the financial burden for another family.  My good deed was done.

But I never imagined how much joy *I* would get from seeing these little boys wear our clothing.  It always catches me by a surprise; a picture on Facebook or running into them at Scouts.  Its funny because I often forget who I have given which pieces of clothing too.  I find myself commenting, "what a cute outfit" or "I think we had a similar shirt" when the mother corrects me and says, "you gave that to us!".

Its been fun watching these little boys grow up, love, laugh, play and get dirty in the same clothes that my boys wear.  Its like we are welcoming them into our family as well.  They are making the same memories with their sons in the same clothing.  What a great gift for me and for them.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Adventures in Kittening

Its started about a year ago, Connor asked for his own cat.  Eleanor was a newborn at the time and I had no interest in getting another animal for me to take care of.  I set up a set of rules; he had to show he could be responsible for the cat including feeding nightly and changing the litter box weekly.  He did it, for months.  Then I told him since we were in the middle of a remodel and didn't have anywhere for a littler box he would have to wait.  I was sorely tempted to get him a kitten for Christmas - a little mewing box under the tree, it would have been adorable.  But I was told that kitten season was in the spring.  We decided the best way to get a kitten was to foster an orphaned family and then keep whichever kitten we liked the most.

We went down to the shelter and signed up to be fosters.  I honestly thought they would deny us with 5 children in the home, but fortunately I was wrong.  I took a quick "orientation", which consisted of a shelter worker reading a pamphlet to me, and we were all set.  Just waiting for a phone call.

A few months later we got the call.  I had been terrified we would get kittens that needed bottle-feeding.  I just don't have time for that right now.  But this was a group of 4 siblings who were eating wet food.  We jumped in the car and headed to the North Central Shelter.  The kids were very excited to get 4 white fluffy balls of mews.

We received 3 girls and one boy, they were approximately 1 lb each and siamese mix.  They had the most beautiful blue eyes.  They were frightened and the kids were squealing with excitement.  It wasn't a good mix.  

We swung my Petsmart on the way home to get kitten supplies; formula, wet food, litter, toys, bed, bowl, . . . . $200 later we were set to love these animals.  

The kids loved having them in our home.  To be honest, I did too.  We kept them in the laundry room until they were deflead and litter trained.  But they occasionally came out to play with use at night.  They would attack one another and wrestle all over the floor.  They used those nifty claws to climb my pants leg and the side of the couch.  

Since there were 4 each child 'adopted' one for themselves.  Connor adopted the boy and named him Louis, Lainy Ann named her Mini, William named his Canine (female), and Alexander named his K5, the Cupcake, then Mike, then Lollipop.  The kids would greet them in the morning and play with them in the afternoon.  After bath time we usually let them out to run around a bit.  But we always talked about how the kittens were temporary and we would not keep all 4 kittens and we might keep one.  

At first we thought we would keep Louis because Connor loved him and he was friendly and outgoing.  But he started to have crusty eyes and I didn't want a sick cat.  Then we decided to keep Canine.  He was playful and frisky.  He was healthy.  It seemed like the natural choice.  

But then they all started having bloody stool.  I figured it was because of the diet change.  We restricted them to the living room only and I was spending 3 hours a day cleaning up after them since they weren't using the litter box.  I had decided I was never fostering again.  

Nine days after we brought the kittens home Lainy Ann discovered Mike/Cupcake laying lifelessly on the floor.  We rushed all 4 kittens to the vet at the shelter.  We were told they had panleukopenia (distemper) and were very sick.  I still hadn't grasped what was happening.  I asked if we could have them back when they were well.  The vet said they would never be well and they were going to put them to sleep.

I admit it, I lied to the kids.  I wasn't prepared to tell them the truth.  I told them that the kittens needed to stay at the doctor to get better and that they would call us.  I cried, I bleached (to protect Pita), and I cried some more.  I even bleached some more.  But later in the afternoon I told Connor the truth.  I told him that they were so sick that they would die and rather than make them suffer the vet would help them die sooner.  He sobbed and sobbed.  He wailed that life wasn't fair.  We talked about heaven.  We talked about all the people we knew in heaven.  He made a statue of Louis.  We guessed as to which one of our loved ones would like Louis the most.  It was hard.  I was really going into this blind.  All I could do was hope and pray I was telling him what he needed to hear to be comforted, but also have a realistic view of death.  In that moment I was grateful for all the death in our life because I knew not to lie to the kids or use euphemisms for death.  I told the truth.  I didn't make empty promises.  I held him while he cried.  William and Lainy Ann weren't as upset about it.  And I never did tell Alexander.  He never again asked, so I didn't bring it up.  Eleanor spent the next 2 days walking around the house saying "kitties lost".  She was missing them too in her own way.  

Its been a week since the kittens died.  And yes I would do it again.  We showed love to these little beings for 9 days.  Love they wouldn't have gotten at the shelter.  We weren't able to save them, but we were able to give them a chance they didn't have before.  The kids learned about about Kittening and caring for animals and baby animals versus grown up animals.  Lainy Ann has said, "wow, kittens are a lot of work".  Even Eleanor learned to treat the kittens kindly and carefully.

Connor was never happier than when he was holding Louis.  I know we will find our forever cat some day.  But until then we are still on the list for fostering.  

*My* Children

You will often hear teenagers or young adults state that my children aren't *mine* and why am I being so possessive of them.  Their thinking is that each person has their own will and choice in life and they are their own person and that we can't own people.  I disagree.

My children are *MINE*

I am legally responsible for my children's well-being.  They are unable to consent to medical procedures, register for school or lessons or represent themselves in a court of law.  If my child commits a crime or vandalizes someone's property I am legally and financially responsible for the repercussions  If *my* toddler uses a rock to 'draw' on another's car then I am the one calling my insurance company and negotiating payment and righting the wrong that my child did.  When the police call looking for the responsible adult belonging to said child, they are looking for me.  These children are legally mine.

These children are a part of me, a part of my very DNA.  I spent years readying my body to house these perfect little beings for 9 months.  I changed my diet, my actions, my thought processes just to care for this not-yet a person being.  Even before the stick turned blue I was counting my caffeinated beverages, avoiding alcohol, and microwaving deli meats.  Once the pregnancy was confirmed I changed everything about my life to my daily activities (I needed far more sleep) to my diet to our long term plans.  We made different purchasing/financial decisions.  After the child was born I spent the next 12-15 months continuing to feed the child with my body.  I continued to watch my diet, depending on each child's  needs, and ensuring I was available for my child at all hours of the day and night to nourish their little bodies.  I could argue that I continue to feed my children; after all I do all the grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, counting calories, calculating exercise to food intake, protein vs empty calories. These children are a very part of me and my body, my energies and my life.

Its my responsibility to ensure these little beings grow up to be successful productive members of society.  Some of the skills the children have learned are innate like grasping and sucking and walking.  Others are taught like reading, building, engineering.  I am their first teacher, as their mother.  We choose, as parents, what to introduce them to, what classes they should take to continue to grow their skills.  I take an enormous amount of pride when one of my children accomplishes something new.  I know that it was our work together that helped them reach that goal, either through direct teaching or something more indirect like simply driving the child to practice or paying for lessons.  Some of the time those accomplishments are part of ourselves showing through - like Connor's love for science and reading is so much like his father and Lainy Ann's love and compassion for her younger siblings comes directly from her mother.

So, yes, these are *MY* kids.  I take responsibility for them.  I will continue to teach them by exposing them to great literature, STEM based classes and activities, scouts, sports, robotics, programming, religion, etc.  As parents we will continue to nurture them and guide them in what we want them to learn about, because they are my kids.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Books for Geek Kids

I'm sort of not plagarizing.  As long as I give credit its okay, right?  I saw this list of 67 Books Geek Dads Should Read to Their Kids . . .  and I clicked on it right away.  This looked like a great place to start our library.  But the format is awful.  I have to reload the page for an image of each book cover.  Its not actually a list.  ugh!

So I am recompiling it in list form here.  Its not original content, just reformatted.

  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Amelia Bedelia
  • JRR Tokein
  • Dan Dunn and the Homework Machine by Jay and Abrashkin, Raymond Williams (out of print)
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians
  • Savvy
  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • Tale of Despereaux
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • The Penderwicks Series
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
  • Charlotte's Web
  • The Giving Tree
  • Holes
  • Stuart Little
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basile E. Frankweiler
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society
  • The Lorax
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Little Bear
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Green Eggs and Ham
  • In the Night Kitchen
  • Curious Georg
  • Frog and Toad
  • Owl at Home
  • Henry and Mudge
  • Clifford
  • Arthur
  • Where the Wild Things Are

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Coding Literacy for Children

One million American jobs are unfilled because we do not have qualified Americans to take these jobs. Major tech companies are flying to India and Vietnam higher employees and help them get American Visas.

Silicon Valley is Importing Educated Employees

11th Grade Vietnamese Students can Work for Google

Estonia is Teaching First Graders to Program

Removing Obstacles to STEM

The solution to this problem is to teach children to code.  I have been doing some research, because I, myself, don't know how to code.  How am I going to teach my kids to do something that I can't do.

Its easy!  There are dozens of free programs available on the internet that teach how to code.  But coding isn't a language you have to memorize - its a way of thinking differently, solving problems and being logical.  These are skills that will help children regardless of what career they choose.

First Grade - At this age coding is more like playing games.  You need to teach children that a computer will only do what you tell it to do.  Its like the exercise you complete in third grade in which you have to give step-by-step instruction to make a PB&J.  Inevitably the instructor forgets some steps and the sandwich is made incorrectly and a lesson in effective communication is learned.

Its the same with talking to computers.  You need to tell the computer exactly what the steps are.  The computer cannot infer.  Its up to the programmer to write the code correctly.  An fun and easy way to teach children is through games like Light-Bot or Robo Mind.

Third Grade - We have chosen to start with Ruby.  There is a great easy tutorial that starts with simple math equations, measuring the length of a phrase and teaching strings and arrays.

Fifth Grade - After some expertise with Ruby the kids will tackle Scratch.  It seems to be the next most logical step.  I have done quite a bit of research and found many schools, summer programs, and clubs that teach Scratch.  Scratch for Teens is a great accompanying text for learning this language.

About Scratch from the creator - "As a parent I’ve tried to teach my kids to code with mixed results. Arguably they’re a bit too young right now to really see the excitement in creation but I felt that exposing them early to, say, Scratch and electronics kits is a valuable exercise. However, the average school curriculum, at least in Brooklyn where I am, treats programming as an advanced art, offering the kids little more than a bit of word processing and some game playing in lieu of something like Scratch."

Since I only have a 5th grader that's as far as we have gotten with our coding curriculum.  But here are lots of other links and programs online that are all free.  I'm sure that by the time my child is in high school there will be a whole new host of websites to choose from.  Some of my favorites for now are: - they are championing bringing coding to every school.  They are working with our government to ensure we have educated students to take the unfilled jobs.

Code Academy

Code High School "CodeHS operates on the premise that most online education websites offer content and tests but are missing that important, interactive human element as part of their learning processes. In other words, they lack teachers. So, CodeHS wants to connect students with a real person to help them learn, offering debugging help and feedback on programming style, etc. as part of each exercise." About Code High School

Alice - Turning abstract into animation

If all of that isn't enough of a place to start you can buy your kids LEGOs, the LEGO Robots, find them a LEGO League so they can practice programming robots.

Why reinvent the wheel?  This mom compiled a list of programming resources too.  Pamela Fox's Blog

Monday, March 11, 2013

Minecraft Civilization

If you don't know what Minecraft is, you have been living under a rock, but I have had sympathy on you and the video above gives a great overview.

My husband has been playing Minecraft for a long time.  He sucked me into the game and then shortly after we introduced our children.  It started with them just watching us play.  Then we set up the X-Box for the sole reason of playing Minecraft.  Originally I was happy about them playing because of the building, engineering, real life smelting and creating.  I figured there was a lot to learn through Minecraft.

In the beginning we would hear screams and cries as a child inevitably wasn't able to build a house before nightfall and the zombies came out to attack.  Then the child would dig deep into the earth . . . without a torch, get turned around not know how to get back to the surface.  A lot of those worlds just got abandoned.

But they learned.  They learned about peaceful mode, and creative mode.  They worked together.  They built houses and roads and shops.  They bargained with each other "Can I put a bed in your house?  Its too far to walk to my house?"  And they would yell and scream and argue over who had the bigger bedroom.  They protected each other from the monsters and zombies.  They worked together as they mined.  They bartered scarce resources.  They also went through the blowing-up-everything-stage.

But recently I realized that they have created a civilization, from nothing.  Each child has built a house and a shop.  They are making things in the shop and selling them to the other siblings.  They have built a society based on capitalism.  They did this without an example of what to do (quite frankly, I use Minecraft-time for my own personal quiet time).

With their only resources being Minecraft, 4 controllers, 4 children of various ages they have replicated what civilizations have done since the beginning of time.  They haven't had any instruction on society, civilization, or economics.  But no matter.  They still created a society completely of their own volition. Its quite impressive.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Banned Books

I recently read a blog post in which the author describes the evolution of a love of reading.  She startes with the infant/edible stage and moves on up until about age 4 or 5, which makes sense because her children are 4 or 5 years old.

My kids are 8 and 10 years old and I have found that the progression stays the same.  Especially the "addiction" stage.  I have uttered some strange phrases in my life, but I never thought I would say "If you read 'Harry Potter' once more I will burn your book".  Yup, not a proud moment.  But the child is sneaking 'Harry Potter'.  Yup, I said sneaking.  Our house is over-flowing with literature of all ages, genres, and levels.  In the last few months we went through a book purge in which I individually go through each book in every room and make baskets of age-appropriate literature.  Books that are too old or too young either get put away for a few months or moved into the next child's room.  In addition, books that have been read too often get put away - off limits.  I never thought I would make books off-limits.  It seems kind of silly.  How can you read a book too much?

We talk quite a bit about junk food and good food.  Books are much the same.  I find lots of yummy junk food books in the free section on  Sometimes you just want a yummy junky book, not unlike, yummy junky movies or magazines.  But we can't subsist on junk food and our brain can't subsist on junk books.  Our brain is a muscle that needs to be fed interesting literature, new ideas, complicated vocabulary.  Its only through the exposure of new and more complicated books that the brain learns and grows.

So, yes, in our family some books 'go on vacation' for a while or get banned.  But not permanently and not in the this-book-will-cause-you-to-make-poor-decisions-banning.  We occasionally need to be reminded to consume meaty books full of protein.